Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Beautiful Cornwall, the Setting for Poldark

by Debra Brown
He [Joshua Poldark] felt he would like one more look at the sea, which was licking at the rocks behind the house. He had no sentimental notions about the sea; he had no regard for its dangers or its beauties. To him it was a close acquaintance whose every virtue and failing, every smile and tantrum he had come to understand.
A great many residents of Cornwall (Kernow) over the milleniums have had such a relationship with the cold swells of the briny deep, for Cornwall is a peninsula resisting the temper of the water and winds of the Celtic Sea and English Channel. Treacherous cliffs are the neighbors of some, but for others there is sloping access to sandy beaches.
They reached the edge of the cliff where they were seventy or eighty feet above the sea. On the left the cliffs slipped down to the inlet of Nampara Cove, then rose again more steeply toward Sawle. Looking east, upon Hendrawna Beach, the sea was very calm; a smoky gray with occasional patches of violet and living, moving green.

The patchwork fields of West Penwith, misty Bodmin Moor, and centuries old villages built around glassy coves paint a pretty picture of the Duchy that once was an independent trading nation with its own royal line.

Even today the people, customs, and place names left over from a Celtic tongue differ from those farther north. Many prefer not to be called English, but Cornish. Indeed, Westminster recently recognized them as a national minority such as the Welsh, Irish, and Scots.
The narrow cobbled street with the streamlet of water bubbling down it, the close-built squat houses with their bown windows and lace curtains....
....A secretive, important little town, clustering in the fold of the hills astride and about its many streams, almost surrounded by running water and linked to the rest of the world by fords, by bridges, and by stepping stones. Miasma and the other fevers were always rife.

The earliest farming seems to have begun in the middle Bronze age; the well-ordered lengthy fields in the fringes of the Cornish uplands date from that time. In the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age, irregular, brick shaped fields were developed. Most have been reorganized and overlain by medieval and later field patterns.

Few Roman remains had been found as far west as Cornwall, and it was thought that they had not settled west of Exeter, but the relatively recent discovery of coins, pottery, and slag led to the uncovering of a fort, marching camp, and various annexes. It is now thought that three Roman forts existed west of Devon.

With the exit of the Romans and the takeover of eastern England by the Saxons and other Germanic tribes, Devon and Cornwall became the British kingdom of Dumnonia. They had strong cultural ties to Wales and Ireland whose missionaries came and developed communities known as Churchtowns. Celtic rites began to blend with Catholic observances.

The country battled with Wessex, the legendary King Arthur being one of the Cornish chieftains, but the warring ultimately resulted in Cornwall being cut off from other Dumonian areas, bringing an end to the kingdom. Cornwall became more subject to Wessex over time with Cornish estates being left to others in the will of Alfred the Great in the 880s.

William the Conqueror, after 1066, gave lands and manors to his barons. In 1337, Cornwall became a Duchy of England to be held by the monarch's eldest son and heir, the first being the Black Prince, the son of Edward III. By the time of Henry VIII, most Cornish autonomy was gone as England became a more centralized state.

The Reformation brought about the closing of Cornish churches. The New Prayer Book and the Bible were printed in English, a language the Cornish did not want, resulting in the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549.

They enjoyed relative peace, however, in coming centuries, and their tin mines produced well, employing many people. Other common occupations were "wrecking", that is the collecting of remnants from ships that were wrecked on the lengthy coastlines, smuggling, and fishing.

By the 18th century, the time setting of Poldark, Cornwall was incorporated into the Kingdom of Great Britain, and use of the Cornish language was in steep decline. Due to the lack of good roads, transportation of goods continued by means of mules and ponies. Homes were basic, usually consisting of two rooms--one for eating and living and another for sleeping. Children often slept in lofts above their parents.
The room was so full that all the children had to sit on the floor, and the juveniles, those from nine to sixteen, were arranged two by two up the wooden ladder to the bedroom--"just like the animiles in the ark," as Jud benevolently told them.
Sanitation and drainage were poor, resulting in infectious disease. Some families could afford a pig or a share in a cow for the luxury of milk and cream. Hevva cake and the bright yellow saffron cake or bun were common foods. The Cornish pasty, filled with any variety of ingredients, was a convenient meal for miners and their families alike. A phrase which describes in an exaggerated way the drinking habits of the county is "If there be but three houses together two shall be ale houses".

Though the Cornish language became extinct in the 19th century, when little was done to preserve it, it has lived on in place names and with effort is being revived. The economy is now mainly based on tourism. Perhaps you'd like to visit; no other part of England has such a range of dramatic landscapes.

Ross Poldark Blog Tour

“If Jane Austen met Charlotte Bronte and they drank too much port, the Poldark Saga would be their literary love child.” —

Captain Ross Poldark rides again in the new Sourcebooks Landmark tie-in editions of Ross Poldark and Demelza, the first two novels in the acclaimed Poldark Saga by Winston Graham, adapted into the inaugural season of the new Masterpiece Classic PBS’s series Poldark, airing June 21 – August 2 on PBS.

In celebration, July 6th through August 3rd, The Ross Poldark Blog Tour will visit thirty popular book blogs specializing in historical, romance and Austenesque fiction. Featuring spotlights, previews, excerpts and book reviews of these two acclaimed historical fiction novels, the tour will also offer readers a chance at a fabulous giveaway contest including copies of the books and a stunning Anglophile-themed prize package.

Win One of Three Fabulous Prizes

In celebration of the re-release of Ross Poldark and Demelza, Sourcebooks Landmark is offering three chances to win copies of the books or a grand prize, an Anglophile-themed gift package. Two lucky winners will each receive one trade paperback copy of Ross Poldark and Demelza, and one grand prize winner will receive a prize package containing the following items:

(2 ) Old Britain Castles Pink Pottery Mugs by Johnson Brothers
(1) Twelve-inch Old Britain Castles Pink Pottery Plater by Johnson
(1) London Telephone Box Tin of Ahmad English Breakfast Tea
(1) Jar of Mrs. Bridges Marmalade
(1) Package of Duchy Originals Organic Oaten Biscuits
(2) Packets of Blue Boy Cornflower Seeds by Renee's Garden Heirloom
(1) Trade Paperback Copy of Ross Poldark & Demelza, by Winston Graham

To enter the giveaway contest simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on the Ross Poldark Blog Tour starting July 06, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, August 10, 2015. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the entrants and announced on the Buzz at Sourcebooks blog on August 13, 2015. Winners have until August 20, 2015 to claim their prize.

The giveaway contest is open to US residents and the prizes will be shipped to US addresses. Good luck to all!

Blog Tour Schedule


The Prehistoric Landscape, Flying Through Cornwall's Past.

Roman fort found in Cornwall 'rewrites history', BBC News.

Cornwall is far more than just a county - and now it’s official, The Telegraph.

History of Cornwall and Its People


All quotes from Poldark by Winston Graham

Monday, July 27, 2015

English Reformation Martyr: Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex

by Beth von Staats

after Hans Holbein the Younger
line engraving, possibly 18th century
© National Portrait Gallery, London

"Most gracious Prince, I cry for mercy, mercy, mercy!"
Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex –

Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, is a study in contrasts. Bearer of a complicated legacy, Cromwell is often demonized for his role in the falls and ultimate executions of Elizabeth Barton, Saint John Fisher, Saint Thomas More, Queen Anne Boleyn, Henry Pole, Henry Courtenay and several others. Vilified for his leadership and efficiency in orchestrating the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Thomas Cromwell with his king's support and approval ended a way of life going back centuries.

In stark contrast, Thomas Cromwell is also heralded as the architect of the Henrican Reformation. A self-made man who rose from dire poverty, Cromwell brought the English language Bible to England and Wales, stabilized the English economy, patronized the arts, advocated for the poor and down-trodden, and as a “man of laws” changed the very face of Parliament, introducing the notion that governmental laws could and should be established and approved through representation of the people.

It is no surprise then that historian Edward Hall noted, “Many lamented, but more rejoiced,” when Thomas Cromwell was arrested on 10 June 1540.

John Foxe
by Martin Droeshout
line engraving, 1620s-1630s
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Painted by his detractors as a traitor and “secret sacramentarian”, a sinful heretic who not only denied Roman Catholic transubstantiation, but also the Lutheran sacramental union, Thomas Cromwell died via a botched beheading from an inexperienced executioner on Tower Hill, his severed head speared onto a spike placed in exhibition on London Bridge.

Though most view Thomas Cromwell as either a “hero of the common man” or “evil incarnate”, 475 years ago today, 28 July 1540, Cromwell died as neither. Instead, as much as most people rarely consider the possibility, this complex intellectual genius who changed the face of England died a religious martyr for his faith. Martyrist John Foxe honored him alongside other heralded Protestant martyrs in his famous, albeit heavily biased historical accountings -- and justifiably so. As Foxe proclaimed in his Book of Martyrs:

In this worthy and noble person, besides divers other eminent virtues, three things especially are to be considered, to wit, flourishing authority, excelling wisdom, and fervent zeal to Christ and to his gospel. First, as touching his fervent zeal in setting forward the sincerity of Christian faith, sufficient is to be seen before by the injunctions, proclamations, and articles... that more cannot almost be wished in a nobleman, and scarce the like hath been seen in any.

How could this be? Thomas Cromwell, a religious martyr?

Foxe's assessment of Cromwell's “fervent zeal to Christ and to his gospel” is not overstated. As early as 1524, Cromwell showed plainly his desire to reform the Church in England through his association with merchants such as Thomas Somer, a stockfishmonger who was a known smuggler of evangelical heretical books, including Tyndale's New Testament.

By 1530, Thomas Cromwell's faith demonstrated decisively a commitment to fostering of “the new learning” within the realm. Within a year, he was smuggling and organizing the translation and printing of Lutheran works, most notably The Apology of the Augsburg Confession by Philipp Melanchthon. With Sir Thomas More and John Stokesley, Bishop of London, actively chasing heretics, burning six evangelical smugglers at the stake, Thomas Cromwell certainly took dangerous risks to foster his reformist religious agenda – all activities known, and likely far more unknown, accomplished with great secrecy before his service to or any protection from King Henry VIII.

"My prayer is that God give me no longer life than I shall be glad to use my office in edification and not in destruction."
 – Thomas Cromwell

To all living in 16th century Tudor England, there was only one true religion, all those disbelieving heretics. The problem became disagreement on what exactly the true religion was. 16th century religion was serious business. Unfortunately for the subjects of the realm, just what religion one was to adhere to changed with the theological whims of the reigning monarchs and was particularly confusing during the reign of King Henry VIII. Overstep the mark of the king’s ever changing religious philosophies, and a person would quickly become the victim of judicial murder.

after Unknown artist
line engraving, possibly late 18th century
© National Portrait Gallery, London
As loyal as Thomas Cromwell was to Henry VIII through his ten years of faithful service, eventually he crossed the religious line of the king over an issue the monarch actually never wavered upon. The truth of the matter was that though a sinner by his own admission, Thomas Cromwell, like other evangelicals and Lutherans, believed heart and soul in justification by faith alone. Once King Henry VIII understood what this all meant upon digesting a rousing sermon by Cromwell's rival Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, at St. Paul's Cross on the first day of Lent 1540, Thomas Cromwell's days were numbered.

King Henry VIII, though hateful of the papacy, still held close many Roman Catholic tenants, particularly the notion that abundant good works combined with faith were needed for salvation. This disagreement in religious belief ultimately became a sticking point in the King Henry VIII's relationship with his most faithful servant, enabling the king to ultimately order Cromwell's execution after his detractors, most notably Stephen Gardiner and other high ranking conservative clergy, along with Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, orchestrated Cromwell's arrest and imprisonment upon certainly false charges.

Perhaps most convincing of Thomas Cromwell's “fervent zeal to Christ and to his gospel” was his speech to those witness to his execution. Though many people, particularly historical fiction writers and arm-chair historians, mistakenly assume Cromwell recanted his Lutheran beliefs by proclaiming, “I die in the Catholic faith, not doubting in any article of my faith...” during his final speech, he, like Martin Luther, Thomas Cranmer, Philipp Melanchthon and other Lutherans and evangelicals, used the term “Catholic” to mean the “Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”. To this day, Lutherans and Anglicans are Catholics. What they are not are papists or “Roman” Catholics, neither term used by Cromwell.

Instead of the recantation many assumed was offered, Thomas Cromwell professed clearly and pointedly to those in witness, to his family, to his king, and to his God his steadfast belief that his salvation could only be justified through his faith and his faith alone. He prayed at the block,
I see and acknowledge that there is in myself no hope of salvation, but all my confidence, hope and trust is in thy most merciful goodness. I have no merits or good works with I may allege before thee... Of sins and evil works, alas, I see a great heap... but through thy mercy, I trust to be in the number of them to whom thou wilt not impute their sins; but will take and accept me for righteous and just...

With Thomas Cromwell's staunch Lutheran beliefs intact, like Cardinal John Fisher, Sir Thomas More, John Frith, John Lambert, the Carthusian Monks, Father John Forest, and his blessed William Tyndale before him, Thomas Cromwell died a religious martyr to his faith. Though often forgotten, ignored or dispelled, that truth remains undaunted.

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury
by Pieter Stevens van Gunst
line engraving, published 1707
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Surviving Partial Letter Composed by
Thomas Cranmer to King Henry VIII
14 July 1540

........ I heard yesterday in your Grace's Council, that he [Crumwell] is a traitor, yet who cannot be sorrowful and amazed that he should be a traitor against your Majesty, he that was so advanced by your Majesty; he whose surety was only by your Majesty; he who loved your Majesty, as I ever thought, no less than God; he who studied always to set forwards whatsoever was your Majesty's will and pleasure; he that cared for no man's displeasure to serve your Majesty; he that was such a servant in my judgmentt, in wisdom, diligence, faithfulness, and experience, as no prince in this realm ever had; he that was so vigilant to preserve your Majesty from all treasons, that few could be so secretly conceived, but he detected the same in the beginning? If the noble princes of memory, King John, Henry the Second, and Richard II had had such a counsellor about them, I suppose that they should never have been so traitorously abandoned, and overthrown as those good princes were:

........ I loved him as my friend, for so I took him to be; but I chiefly loved him for the love which I thought I saw him bear ever towards your Grace, singularly above all other. But now, if he be a traitor, I am sorry that ever I loved him or trusted him, and I am very glad that his treason is discovered in time; but yet again I am very sorrowful; for who shall your Grace trust hereafter, if you might not trust him? Alas! I bewail and lament your Grace's chance herein, I wot not whom your Grace may trust. But I pray God continually night and day, to send such a counsellor in his place whom your Grace may trust, and who for all his qualities can and will serve your Grace like to him, and that will have so much solicitude and care to preserve your Grace from all dangers as I ever thought he had........ [14 June 1540.] 

Sir Thomas Wyatt
By J. Thurston, engraved by W.H. Worthinton after
a drawing by Hans Holbein the younger in the
Buckingham Library from Charles Cowden Clarke,
The Poetic Works of Sir Thomas Wyatt

Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poem Heralding
the Execution of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex

THE pillar perish'd is whereto I leant,
The strongest stay of my unquiet mind;
The like of it no man again can find,
From east to west still seeking though he went,
To mine unhap, for hap away hath rent
Of all my joy the very bark and rind,
And I, alas, by chance am thus assign' d
Daily to mourn, till death do it relent.
But since that thus it is by destiny,
What can I more but have a woeful heart;
My pen in plaint, my voice in careful cry,
My mind in woe, my body full of smart;
And I myself, myself always to hate,
Till dreadful death do ease my doleful state.
– Sir Thomas Wyatt


Coat of Arms
Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, K.G.
1485 - 28 July 1540



Cranmer, Thomas, Archbishop, Letter of Thomas Cranmer to King Henry VIII, Regarding Thomas Cromwell, Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature.

Foxe, John, Foxe's Book of Martyrs, 195. Thomas Cromwell.

Loades, David, Thomas Cromwell, Servant to Henry VIII, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire, 2013.

Schofield, John, The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's Most Faithful Servant, The History Press, Gloucestershire, 2008.

Wyatt, Thomas, THE pillar perished is whereto I leant, Luminarium: Renaissance Literature.

Beth von Staats is a short story historical fiction writer and administrator of Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers.

Giveaway: Red Horse by M J Logue

M J Logue is giving away a copy of the first book in the Uncivil Wars series, "Red Horse"This giveaway ends at midnight on 3rd August. To see more information about the book, please click HERE

Comment on this page to enter the drawing, and please be sure to leave your contact information.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Singular Pattern of Steady Loyalty

by M J Logue

On 27th July 1646, Wallingford Castle in Oxfordshire became the last major English stronghold held by King Charles I to surrender to the Army of Parliament following a twelve-week siege by Sir Thomas Fairfax. To protect the town, part of the stone bridge across the Thames was replaced with a wooden drawbridge. St Leonard’s church, used as a troop garrison, was badly damaged during the war, and two other churches, All Hallows and St Peter’s, were destroyed.

Wallingford Castle was held by Colonel Thomas Blagge, who was appointed Governor of the castle in 1642 and who commanded a foot regiment of a thousand men, to prevent an advance on Oxford to the north-west. In 1643 the king instructed him to refortify the castle, inspecting the results later that year. By 1644, the surrounding Thames towns of Abingdon and Reading had fallen and Parliamentary forces unsuccessfully attacked the town and castle of Wallingford in 1645. Colonel Blagge’s foot regiment and Lord Digby’s horse regiment were stationed there, and the Wallingford troops were involved in many local skirmishes. Later, Parliamentarians came to Wallingford believing the king to be there and were received somewhat brusquely by Blagge, who told them he’d left for Oxford.

Blagge was originally a Suffolk man, born at Horningsheath, and was baptised in 1613, marrying Mary North of Mildenhall, daughter of Sir Roger North. He was - and remained until his death in 1660 - a staunch King's man; he had been one of Charles' Grooms to the Bedchamber. In fact, Charles visited Wallingford several times during the war and once struck Blagge about the head for not providing enough soldiers, and on another occasion the Queen and Prince Rupert were godparents at the christening of one of Blagge’s children. His wife survived him by a further ten years, and he left four young daughters - Henrietta Maria, Dorothy, Mary and Margaret. Henrietta Maria married Sir Thomas Yarborough of Snaith in the County of York, and Mary became the wife of Coldough. Margaret married the Earl of Godolphin, who became Lord High Treasurer of England. She died a few days after the birth of Francis, her only son.

Both Margaret and Henrietta Maria were Maids of Honour to the Duchess of York and, after the Duchess's death in 1671, Margaret became Maid of Honour to Queen Catherine.

As the Parliamentarian forces approached the King's headquarters at Oxford in the summer of 1646, Charles escaped, disguised as a footman. The city was surrounded and eventually surrendered: only Raglan and Pendennis were still held by the King. Charles fled northwards to Newark to join the Scots. And yet, Blagge, alone and surrounded at Wallingford, hung on.

There was much damage in the town, mostly from fires. Though there was no hope of relief, Blagge kept possession of the fortress, even though it was surrounded on all sides and there were daily assaults on the lines. Such was the resolution with which Blagge defended the position that Fairfax sought the aid of Cromwell and others. He had reported his progress from time to time to the Commons and discussed with them the terms for surrender. With their approval, a list of terms was drawn up and presented to Blagge, who refused to accept them until the King gave permission. Fairfax immediately ordered two more brigades to surround the town.

On 17 July, Fairfax reported that all terms were agreed except that Col. Blagge demanded that himself and the garrison “not to be questioned for anything done as soldiers during the war”. The Commons objected to this and other demands and ordered the siege to continue. After holding out for 16 weeks in total, with an all out siege of 65 days, in which only five men were lost, the town yielded on the 27th July 1646 with an honourable surrender. The terms of the surrender were little modified from those demanded by Colonel Blagge, and allowed the defenders to march out with flying colours, in all honour. (The full terms of the surrender can be found here.)

The risk of civil conflict continued, however, and Parliament decided that it was necessary to slight the castle in 1652 as it remained a surprisingly powerful fortress and a continuing threat should any fresh uprising occur. The castle was virtually razed to the ground in the operation, although a brick building continued to be used as a prison into the 18th century. A large house was built in the bailey in 1700, followed by a mansion on the same site in 1837.

It's a quiet, beautiful, green walled garden these days, and the only time the peaceful Oxfordshire countryside echoes to the sound of artillery fire is during the re-enactment that commemorates the siege. But you have to admire Thomas Blagge. Beleaguered, surrounded, his faith in his King never faltered, even through eleven long years of the Commonwealth. He died six months after the Restoration and was buried in the North Cross of Westminster Abbey. His epitaph reads:

...a gentleman, who, to the rarest accomplishments of mind and body, added to the sciences, and every civil and military virtue. As he was beloved by Charles I and II, of whose bedchamber he was, he preserved an unshaken fidelity to them, and performed many important services; especially when Governor of Wallingford Castle, which, after almost all of the rest had submitted, he defended so valiantly, that, when he marched out of it, it was by his Majesty’s own command giving also afterwards a singular pattern of steady loyalty, in his sufferings for the royal cause, by exile abroad and frequent imprisonment at home. For these deserts, he was, at the king’s restoration, made a colonel in the guards, and Governor of Yarmouth and Landguard Fort. Further preferments were designed for him, of which death deprived him; with the generous satisfaction, however, of having in prosperity that master to whom he had so faithfully adhered to in adversity.


M J Logue has been passionate about the English Civil War since writing her first novel over 20 years ago. After a brief flirtation with horror and dark fantasy, she returned to her first love, historical fiction, and now combines the two. She has a degree in English literature, trained as an archivist, and likes Jacobean theatre, loud music, and cheese.

When not attempting to redeem the reputation of the Army of Parliament, she lives in Cornwall with her husband and son, three cats, and a toad under the back doorstep.

There is little more to divulge, other than - "I had rather have a plain, russet-coated Captain, that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that which you call a Gentle-man and is nothing else."

Thank you, Oliver Cromwell!

She can be found lurking at, and the first three books in her bestselling series featuring the (mis)adventures of sweary Parliamentarian cavalry officer Hollie Babbitt and his rebel rabble are available here.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Anglo-Norman King of Ireland: Hugh de Lacy

By E.M. Powell

Today, the 26th of July, marks the anniversary of the death of one of Henry II's most successful lords, the Anglo-Norman Hugh de Lacy. De Lacy died on this day in 1186 at Durrow, now part of County Offaly, in the Republic of Ireland. His obituary in the Irish annals calls him "King of Meath, Bréifne and Airgialla".

De Lacy did not meet a peaceful end or even one in the heat of battle, where he might have been prepared. His was a brutal and sudden end, even by medieval standards: he was beheaded as he inspected his new castle at Durrow. So why was this Anglo-Norman knight referred to in such lofty terms, and what caused him to be so viciously cut down?

Hugh de Lacy- as drawn by Gerald of Wales

De Lacy was originally Lord of Weobley in Herefordshire. His father had joined the Knights Templar and had signed his lordship to Robert, his eldest son. Robert died childless, so Hugh inherited the title, which he had not expected to do, and became an important tenant of the crown. That wasn't enough to satisfy him. He married Rose of Monmouth, the widow of the powerful Baderon, increasing his prosperity. And he liked to acquire land, whether in England Wales or Normandy. he also had a rather unfortunate tendency to just take it.

The Chapel at Hugh de Lacy's Trim Castle, Co. Meath
We know quite a lot about de Lacy as a person, as Gerald of Wales, the famous chronicler at Henry II's court, wrote extensively of him. He was probably not the most handsome of men. Gerald's description certainly does not flatter: "What Hugh’s complexion and features were like, he was dark, with dark, sunken eyes and flattened nostrils. His face was grossly disfigured down the right side as far as his chin by a burn, the result of an accident. His neck was short, his body hairy and sinewy. He was a short man. His build- misshapen.'"Gerald even included a picture of him in his Conquest of Ireland. 

As for personality, Gerald tends to bounce from one opinion to another (and Gerald was always good for an opinion). He describes de Lacy as "resolute and reliable...restrained from excess by French sobriety. A man of great honesty and good sense." But less favourably when "after the death of his wife [Rose of Monmouth], he was a womanizer and enslaved by lust, not for just one woman, but for many."

The view from the top of Trim Castle
In 1171, de Lacy went with Henry II to Ireland. The Norman grip on the country was in the very earliest stages and there was a lot of what de Lacy liked up for grabs: land. The kingdom of Mide (Meath) was a particularly attractive prize and de Lacy made sure he won it. In a fight with the native Irish ruler, Tigernan Ua Ruairc, de Lacy was the victor. He achieved that victory through the beheading of Ua Ruairc, in an ominous foreshadowing of his own terrible end. Henry granted him Meath and gave him Dublin as well.

Trim Castle
De Lacy proved to be an invaluable asset in Ireland. Even Gerald is pleased: he says de Lacy 'made an excellent job of fortifying Leinster and Meath with castles."  Trim Castle, his seat in Meath, still stands today and is remarkable in its size and scale.

Staircase, Trim Castle
The trouble was, de Lacy was a bit too good at what he did- certainly as far as Henry was concerned. The King tried to clip de Lacy's wings, recalling him to England several times and granting the lordship of Ireland to Henry's own son, John, who was just nine years old at the time. But de Lacy was one step ahead. His first wife, Rose, had died around 1180. He married again, but this time he took an Irish wife, a daughter of the High-King Rory O'Connor (Ruaidri Ua Conchobair) of Connacht. Some records name this woman as Rose also, but this is likely to be a confusion.

The marriage of Strongbow & Aoife
Daniel Maclise, mid 19th century
This marriage was not well received by Henry. He had suspicions that de Lacy was attempting a strategic marriage in the same way that another of his men, Richard fitzGilbert de Clare (Strongbow) had done a decade earlier. Gerald certainly had a dim view of de Lacy's ambitions: "He was avaricious and greedy for gold and more ambitious for his own advancement and pre-eminence than was proper."

John, Lord of Ireland
Henry's solution was to send his son, John, now nineteen, to Ireland in 1185 to assert his authority as Lord of Ireland. John's mission, which started with him pulling the beards of the Irish dignitaries who came to greet him at Waterford, was not a success. He came back after nine months, complaining to his father that de Lacy had been conspiring against him. This is highly unlikely. John was more than capable of failures of his own making.

Whether de Lacy had designs on taking Ireland from Henry, we will never know, for his life was brutally cut short. On July 26th, 1186, de Lacy was inspecting his new castle at Durrow when he was murdered by a single assassin. Contemporary accounts tell us that the murderer had concealed an axe beneath his cloak, and he took de Lacy’s head off with one savage blow, and his head and body fell into the ditch of the castle.

Durrow today- the motte where de Lacy died is in the trees beyond.

The murderer was sent by a chieftain of Meath, Sinnach Ua Catharnaig, a man known as The Fox. Sinnach claimed that he ordered the murder to atone for the wanton destruction of land sacred to the great saint, Columcille, on which de Lacy had built his castle at Durrow. It's more likely that is was simple revenge. One of Sinnach’s sons was slain by Henry’s men some eight years ago, when Hugh de Lacy was the King’s representative in Ireland. Sinnach had always vowed to avenge that death.

Whatever the real motive, it solved a problem for Henry. The powerful threat that was Hugh de Lacy was no more. Chronicler William of Newburgh recorded that 'the news was gladly received by Henry.'

Saint Columcille's Well, Durrow
I visited various sites that relate to Hugh de Lacy when researching my novel. Durrow is a very quiet, beautiful place. I can see why anyone would chose to live there, as de Lacy did. And the well and the ancient high cross are still standing, just as they were the day he died, 829 years today.

Durrow High Cross- ninth century

All photos are copyright E.M. Powell 2015.

Cosgrove, Art, ed: A New History of Ireland Volume II, Medieval Ireland: Oxford University Press (2008)
Durrow Abbey Conservation Plan, Office of Public Works, (2005)
Flanagan, Marie-Therese, Irish Society, Anglo-Norman Settlers, Angevin Kingship: Interactions in Ireland in the late 12th Century, Oxford: Clarendon Press (1998)
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: Hugh de Lacy
Scott, A.B. & Martin, F.X. eds., The Conquest of Ireland by Giraldus Cambrensis: Dublin, Royal Irish Academy (1978)
Veach, Colin, A Question of Timing: Walter de Lacy's seisin of Meath 1189-94, proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 109C, pp. 165-194 (2009)
Veach, Colin, “Relentlessly striving for more”: Hugh de Lacy in Ireland, History Ireland, Issue 2, Volume 15 (2007)


E.M. Powell’s medieval thrillers The Fifth Knight and The Blood of the Fifth Knight have been #1 Amazon bestsellers. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she lives in northwest England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. She blogs for EHFA, reviews for the Historical Novel Society and contributes to The Big Thrill. 
The next book in the series, The Lord of Ireland, based on the Lord John's disastrous 1185 campaign will be published by Thomas & Mercer in 2016. Find out more at

James VI and I and Witches, Both Friend and Foe

by Linda Root

Witches were not a new phenomenon in 1578 when James VI decided he had been bullied and manipulated long enough and took control of Scotland 's government.  At the time, staying clear of kidnappers and potential usurpers was more of a problem than warlocks, daemons and witches.

Comprehensive legislation targeting the occult had been passed by Parliament during his mother’s reign but was seldom enforced unless an accused practitioner ran afoul of a power group or had assets coveted by others. Thus, between over-reaching barons who sought to kidnap him and tutors who considered physical abuse a means of instilling kingliness, young James approached adulthood with more threatening monsters than those drawing their powers from the Netherworld. He hardly needed to add witches to the mix.

Tutor George Buchanan
There are no glaring signs of paranoia concerning the occult in the young king’s profile until he faced the initially unhappy prospect of a dynastic marriage. By then, James had been King of Scots for nearly twenty years, and he understood dynastic politics. As much as he enjoyed the circle of poets and philosophers populating his salon at Stirling, they could not give him the one thing needed to secure his crown. For that, he needed an heir, and to produce one necessitated procuring a wife. Therefore, he entered into negotiations with the Danes for the hand of one of the King of Denmark’s sisters. The chosen one was adolescent Princess Anne, who was fourteen.

The king’s unhealthy concern with witchcraft and the occult began with his marriage to Anne of Denmark. They wed by proxy in August 1589 at Kronborg, Denmark, with George  Keith, 5th Earl Marischal, sitting in for James in their bridal bed. North Sea storms nearly left Queen Anne shipwrecked as she sailed to Scotland to meet her spouse. As it was, instead of sailing to her coronation, she ended up marooned in Oslo.  The already daemonophobic Danes were convinced witches were to blame.

In what one of his biographers has called the one romantic episode of his life, the King of Scots braved both witches and the North Sea, commandeered a less than enthusiastic Chancellor Thirlestane and sailed to Scandinavia to fetch his bride.  It was less than smooth sailing, but he made it safely to a Scandinavian port. While in Denmark, he shared his apprehensions concerning interference from the Underworld with his brother-in-law the King of Denmark and apparently got an earful from King Christian. Then he learned that a congregation of covens had been held at North Berwick where they tossed tortured feral cats into the surf and offered incantations to the Devil to churn the seas. There is ample evidence a group of Scottish witches indeed congregated on All Hallows Eve in a North Berwick churchyard, harboring a malicious intent.

The guest of honor was said to have been the Devil himself, although there were hints it was the king’s dynastically ambitious first cousin Wild Frank Stewart in disguise. By the time James managed to get his youthful bride home to Scotland to be crowned,  he was ready for a witch hunt. While he did not publish his learned treatise entitled Daemnologie on the subject ( until 1597, as soon as James had Queen Anne safely in her marriage bed, he began enforcing the legislation passed during his mother Marie Stuart’s reign.  For once he did not sit back and let his minister John Maitland, Lord Thirlestane handle it. He supervised the trials of the accused North Berwick Witches himself and sometimes took part in interrogations.

Substantial evidence was introduced in the various trials indicating the incident at North Berwick was aimed at him, not Danish Queen Anne. Even more shocking to the king, the event seemed to have been choreographed by Cousin Frank, who stood very close in line to take the throne if some ill befell his cousin James. There were even allegations that Francis Stewart, 5th Earl of Bothwell, was the Devil Incarnate. But with James, once he freed himself from the anti-Marian influences of the men who had controlled his unhappy childhood, blood flowed thicker than water, and Wild Frank went unpunished. Only his purported minions were strangled and burned, including a brutally tortured old woman named Agnes Sampson, all, of course, under the supervision of the Scottish Kirk.

By 1599 when he wrote a treatise on kingship to his young son Henry Frederick, Duke of Rothesay, James was aware accusations of witchcraft were often motivated by a lust for profit or revenge. He advised the prince to be skeptical of allegations coming from those with something to gain from a conviction. Nevertheless, a fear of witches had been planted in the king’s fertile brain.

But in the world of James Stuart, King of Scots, not all traitors or witches were created equal. Wild Frank Stewart was not his only cousin to have links to the Underworld overlooked. The king’s formidable cousin Margaret Flemyng was believed to be the leading Dianist in Scotland. During his examinations of the female defendants in the North Berwick Trials, James became aware of the moral frailty of the fairer sex.

The Devil found women easy targets. But their inherent vulnerability made them easier to forgive. What is more, Margaret was the Countess of Atholl, and her husband was an essential player in the king’s government. Attacking his much-loved wife would have been counterproductive. Moreover, the Countess had been present at his mother’s bedside on the occasion of his birth and two days later had been nearby when his father Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, erstwhile King of Scots, acknowledge the infant James as his own begotten son. Thanks to his mother’s enemies, James Charles Stuart’s pedigree had been subject to debate, and the king looked favorably upon anyone who provided proof of his legitimacy.

The king surely knew the story explaining why Cousin Margaret was in the birthing chamber of the Queen of Scots. She was chosen, not in spite of, but because of her reputation as a witch. She was not present to assist the well-respected midwife Margaret Houston nor as a potential nurse or birthing coach. She was there to employ her talents as a Dianist. Her duty in the birthing chamber was to cast Queen Marie Stuart’s labor pains upon their mutual friend Mary (aka Margaret) Forbes, Lady Reres.  The means, of course, was through the use of incantations. Even the deeply religious Queen of Scots was amenable to the use of witchcraft when the situation called for it.

Not a great deal of documentation is extant concerning Margaret Flemyng’s life, but what survives is enough for us to wish there were more. There is no evidence she was ever officially confronted concerning her Dianist beliefs and practices. When James assumed personal rule in 1578, he appointed her husband, James Stewart, Earl of Atholl to the chancellorship in spite of his open embrace of Catholicism and his wife’s reputation as a white witch. Her link to occult practices was overlooked due to her kinship to the king and the power of her husband, John Stewart, Earl of Atholl. Stewart remained in high office until he was poisoned at a dinner party hosted by his rival James Douglas, Earl of Morton, in April 1579. Margaret had a good idea of who poured the tainted wine. What part incantations might have played in Morton's execution two years later in June 1591 is anybody's guess.

We are uncertain as to Margaret Fleming’s birth date and date of death, but we know she was among the oldest of her parents’ eight children, a daughter of Lord Malcolm Flemying of Biggar and Princess Janet (Jonet) Stewart, one of King James IV’s several legitimatized bastards.
Lad Janet Flemyng, La Belle Ecossaise
  Lady Flemying was the aunt of Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots. Lady Margaret was married three times. All three of her spouses predeceased her. Her first husband, Lord Robert Graham, was Master of Montrose, presumptive heir of his childless brother. He and Margaret had several daughters, but only one son, who became the third Earl of Montrose when his father was killed in action at Pinkie Cleugh in 1547, fighting alongside Margaret’s father Malcolm Fleming, and at least one of her brothers-in-law.

Those of us who are entranced by Scotland’s ability to produce colorful heroes will recognize Margaret Fleming as the great-grandmother of the martyred warrior The Great Montrose, James Graham, First Marquis of Montrose, one of 17th Century Scotland’s most appealing gentlemen warriors.

The Great Montrose (Margaret's great grandson)
After Pinkie, Dame Margaret did not remain a widow for long.  In 1549, she was contracted to wed Thomas Erskine, Master of Mar. During their marriage, he may have been the Regent James Hamilton, Earl of Arran’s Ambassador to England. No notations exist as to his place of death or whether he and his bride spent time in England. According to documents from the period, substantial wealth was settled on Lady Margaret as a result of the deaths of her first two husbands. The third was the most formidable of the three—John Stewart, 4th Earl of Atholl.

As Countess of Atholl, Margaret Fleming came into her own. She was a first cousin to the Queen of Scots and the half-sibling of a legitimatized bastard of the King of France through her mother Janet Stewart, Lady Flemyng, who had taken time off as Marie Stuart’s governess to bear a son to Henri II.

While Margaret’s history is colorful, no single fact is as noteworthy as her reputation as  a leading Dianist—a white witch—at a time when witches were usually drowned or burned, or both. 

The child originally called Charles James Stewart was born in Edinburgh Castle on June 19, 1556, in what some historians have described as a fortified room within the royal apartments of what was considered an impregnable castle. While the Queen continued to reside in Holyrood Palace, after the murder of her personal secretary and favorite David Rizzio, she considered the palace vulnerable.

Those permitted to move with her to the hilltop castle were few and vetted. One of the least welcome was her husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, the unacknowledged King of Scots, who had played a principal role in David Rizzio’s murder, possibly hoping for a miscarriage which might leave him in a position to seize the throne. His political machinations since were well known to the queen.

Marie Stuart was no fool. She populated the Castle with a security team. Although her brother Moray and her loyal champion Bothwell were enemies, she managed to negotiate a truce allowing each of them and their henchmen to lodge within the castle in case she needed their protection. No doubt Darnley was the focus of her concerns. Small wonder that her personal friend John Stewart, Earl of Atholl was present outside the fortified room.

Those among her ladies chosen to accompany her into the inner sanctum were an unusual group.  Only one of her lifelong companions known as the Four Maries was present in a principal role—the plump blonde Marie Beaton, wife of Alexander Ogilvie of Boyne. She did not come alone. She brought her kinswoman Lady Reres. The Countess of Atholl joined them in the chamber. The midwife was Margaret Huston (Houston), a midwife popular with aristocratic Scottish women and who may have delivered the countess’s son John.

While some accounts, notably those of Marian distracter George Buchanan, describe Lady Reres as the infant’s designated nurse, it is more likely she was to be the prince’s governess. In virtually all other accounts, the nurse was named Alice. In a journal article entitled The Coffin in the Wall [1] appearing in the Scottish Historical Review, Alice Forbes, writing in the early 20th century, supports a theory claiming Lady Reres’s function at the birthing was due to her own advanced pregnancy, in case a substitute infant was needed in a crisis.  Forbes speculates that such a need arose, and  a son born to Lady Reres was the child christened at Stirling in December. In the same article, the theory is discredited by co-author R.K.Hannay, who finds the popular report in which the Countess of Atholl was commissioned to use incantations to caste the queen’s labor pains on Dame Mary Forbes, Lady Reres, more feasible than a tale embellished with a changing.

Author Anne Forbes article claiming a lineage linking her bloodline to the present royals has a certain appeal, but the facts do not support the rumor. She generally follows the oft disputed version of Marie Stuart’s history propounded by Agnes Strickland, Prince Labanoff and the Queen’s French Secretary during her captivity, Claud Nau, the same questionable source who declares the Queen gave birth to a child while imprisoned at Loch Leven.

Ms. Forbes account gains credibility due to a nineteenth century discovery of a small coffin in the wall near the Royal Apartments.[2] She rests her case on a purported eyewitness account of a man who had business in the castle at the time of the Queen’s delivery and saw Lady Reres in bed and in apparent pain. 
Anne Forbes'  interpretation does not make James Stuart a changeling or menopausal Lady Reres an expectant mother, but it does suggest that in the minds of Lady Reres and perhaps the Queen, the incantations worked.  While rumors claiming the prince to be the son of David Rizzio dogged King James for most of his life, the one claiming he was the son of Lord and Lady Reres did not take hold.


In the early pages of my 2011 debut novel, The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, my young protagonist Marie Flemyng protests her exodus from Scotland in the entourage of the five-year-old Queen of Scots to her brother James, 4th Lord Fleming:
“Since faither died, you are the laird. You can have me put ashore. I can live with Margaret.”
“Your sister is a widow expecting a child. She has enough to handle without a spunky sister.”
“When I am grown I will be just like Margaret.”

The Queen's cousin Marie Flemyng became a formidable woman, indeed. She was the chief of the Four Maries and, later, the wife of Foreign Secretary William Maitland,who was  regarded by Elizabeth Tudor as 'the flower of the wit of Scotland.' In spite of some  poorly researched statements to the contrary, they were a devoted couple. When she joined her husband William Maitland inside besieged Edinburgh Castle during the years of the Lang Siege (1570-1573), she left her young children at Blair-Atholl in the care of her older sister Margaret. Had she been less a partner to her famous husband, she might have remained there and let Maitlland face the endgame without her. After Maitland's death while awaiting a sham trial for treason, her enemies implied she too was a Dianist, a member  of her sister's coven at Blair. Both she and her sister Margaret remained on friendly terms with their cousin King James VI and outlived most of their critics and enemies.  They are remote ancestors of The Duke of Cambridge through a line extending through Janet, Lady Fleming from Henry VII,  traced through the line of Diana, Princess of Wales.


While I do not find Ann Forbes’ speculation as to the birth of King James VI and I compelling, I discount Hannay’s argument based upon her age as calculated from the birthdate of her two sons as unfounded. The best argument in support of Ms. Forbes on that point comes from the Flemying family itself.  Margaret Flemyng’s mother Janet Stewart, Lady Flemyng, gave birth to an illegitimate son of the King of France in 1551 when she was 40.  My youngest son was born when I was 43. I do not find child birth at age 46 impossible, even in those times.  However, other accounts describe Lady Reres as a heavy, grey-haired woman aged beyond her years.

Sources such as Prince Labanoff, who relied on Claud Nau who was the Queen’s secretary many years after, are suspect. Nau was almost certainly an agent of the Guises and would have altered his reports to please his benefactors. Anything from the pen of George Buchanan or his followers is suspect.  However, the reports dealing with Margaret Flemyng’s role as a Dianist white witch run as a common thread in accounts of James VI and I’s birth.

Historians who touch upon the Four Maries sometimes dwell upon the irony of Calvinist William Maitland’s children having been brought up as Roman Catholics and thus attribute staunch Catholic beliefs to the Flemyings of Biggar. However, Alison Weir in Mary, Queen of Scots andthe Murder of Lord Darnley lists barons Flemying and Livingston among the Protestants. Further reading suggests the Flemings and Livingstons, whether Catholic or Protestant, were religiously flexible moderates with loyalties firmly in the camp of the Queen. Princess Janet Stewart, Lady Flemying, was drawn to the New Learning, and I presume the same of her younger daughters Marie and Agnes. The older children, especially James, 4th Lord Flemyng, and Margaret, Countess of Atholl, are best described as enlightened Catholics. The religion of the Maitland children is more a result of having spent their formative years at Blair-Atholl in the household of the Catholic Earl of Atholl, John Stewart, than any influence their absent mother may have had upon them.  Expatriate James Maitland is a recurring character in my Legacy of the Queen of Scots series.

[1] The Coffin in the Wall.: Alice Forbes and R. K. Hannay, The Scottish Historical Review, Vol. 15, No. 58 (Jan., 1918), pp. 146-158:


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Linda Root is the author of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, a fictionalized life of Marie Flemyng, chief of The Four Maries; The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, a shamelessly embellished but heavily researched fictional biographical novel of Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange; and the four books of The Legacy of the Queen of Scots series, The Midwife’s Secret: The Mystery of the Hidden Princess; The Other Daughter; 1603: The Queen’s Revenge, and soon to be published In the Shadow of the Gallows. All are or soon to be available on Amazon and as Kindle books.  She shares a California mini-rancho with husband Chris, two giant wooly malamutes, 23 hens and a rooster named Henry Eight. Root lives in Yucca Valley, California where she retired as a Supervising Deputy District Attorney in 2004, following 23 years as a major crimes prosecutor.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

On the Holy Places - Jerusalem in the Early Medieval Imagination

By Mark Patton

On a recent visit to York, I found myself looking into the eyes of a (modern) bronze statue of the Roman Emperor, Constantine I, who acceded to the purple at York on the death of his father in 306 AD. He appeared to be gazing straight through me at a stone pillar that he must have known in life since it stood in the military headquarters building in which he probably gave his first imperial speech.

The statue of Constantine in Deansgate, York,
commissioned from Philip Jackson RA in 1998.
Photo: York Minster (licensed under CCA).

The Roman column at Deansgate, York,
discovered in 1969 beneath a transept of the Minster.
Photo: Stanley Howe (licensed under CCA).

Constantine would go on to make two of the decisions that shaped the world in which we live. The first, made almost certainly under the influence of his mother, Helena, was to end discrimination against the Christian Church and ultimately adopt it as the religion of the Empire. The second was to relocate the capital of the Empire from Rome to Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople. His new empire was to be an eastward-facing, rather than a westward-facing, empire, and for a Christian Emperor, this meant that it would face towards Jerusalem, the centre of the Biblical world.

Helena lost no time in travelling there and soon wrote to her son, declaring that she had discovered not only the tomb of Christ but also the fragments of the True Cross, the socket in which it had stood, and the nails by which Christ had been affixed to it. In doing so, she inaugurated and invented the institutions of pilgrimage and of the veneration of relics, which were to hold such sway over the Medieval imagination in Europe. Constantine ordered the construction of a church on the site, replacing a temple to Venus that had been built by his predecessor, Hadrian.

Saint Helena discovering the True Cross,
Italian manuscript of c825 AD,
Vercelli, Biblioteca Capitolare, MS CLXV.

An early pilgrim was the 7th Century Frankish Bishop, Arculf, who, having visited Jerusalem and Egypt, was, on his return voyage, shipwrecked off the coast of Iona (one may well question the judgement of his ship's captain), and taken in by Saint Adomnan, the head of the island's monastic community, who wrote a treatise "On the Holy Places," based on Arculf's account.

Constantine's Church of the Holy Sepulchre had been badly damaged in 614 AD during a Persian invasion under Khosrau II, so the building seen by Arculf was a reconstruction. It is reasonably clear, however, that there were three elements to the original construction: a circular shrine centred on the tomb of Christ; a rectangular basilica on the site of the crucifixion; and a courtyard separating the two. Early copies of Adomnan's description, including, probably, the one that he himself gave to King Aldfrith of Northumbria, contained illustrations based on a drawing that Arculf himself had drawn on "a tablet covered with wax."

The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem,
as described by Arculf to Admonan.
9th Century copy, Vienne, Osterreichisches
National Bibliothek, Codex 458, f4v 

The 7th Century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, 
as interpreted by James Rose in 1895, 
based on Adomnan's account and the 
archaeological evidence.

The number of western Europeans in the early middle ages who were able actually to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem was tiny. Arculf mentioned the presence, in Jerusalem, of many Christian pilgrims, but most are likely to have been Orthodox Greeks and Syriacs or Egyptian Copts, the journey being both too expensive and too dangerous for most Catholics in the west to contemplate.

Descriptions such as Arculf's, therefore, became the basis for a Jerusalem of the mind, a spiritually important, if physically inaccessible, place for most Christians in the west. This Jerusalem of the mind lies at the centre of the imagined world of the Medieval Mappa Mundi, produced not as an aid to navigation, but as a physical expression of a theological world view.

The Cotton map of c1040.
Britain and Ireland are at bottom left,
emphasising their peripheral status,
whilst Sri Lanka ("Taprabanea") is at the top.

According to this world view, the journey to Jerusalem was one that every Christian must make eventually, but not necessarily in this life, for it was at Jerusalem, and not anywhere else, that Christ would make the Last Judgement between the saved and the damned.

The Last Judgement,
from a manuscript of c1050,
British Library, Cotton MS Tiberius CVI.

The Valley of Gehenna, Jerusalem,
believed to be the gate of Hell.
Photo: Deror Avi (licensed under CCA).


Mark Patton blogs regularly on aspects of history and historical fiction at His novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications and can be purchased from Amazon.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Blue Spanish Eyes - of an Amorous Prince and His Infanta

by Anna Belfrage

Charles, the spare
There are many things one can say about Charles, James I’s second son, the rather uninteresting spare who initially seemed destined to live forever in the shadow of his beloved and admired older brother, Henry Frederick. One could call him lucky, seeing as big brother died in typhoid fever, thereby making Charles the heir. One could call him unlucky, in that his reign was to end with his own beheading – to a large extent caused by Charles’ obdurate take on the divine right of kings. One could call him elegant, a good father and a loving husband. Some would say he was priggish and small-minded. Rarely would one call him flamboyant or daring. And yet, there is one incident in Charles’ early life that speaks of a desire for adventure, a streak of recklessness. I am, of course, talking about the infamous Spanish affair.

Elizabeth, future Queen of Bohemia
Long before there was a Spanish affair, there was the Bohemian debacle. In 1613, Charles’ older sister, Elizabeth Stuart, had married Frederick, Count of the Palatinate Rhine – or Elector Palatinate for short. A wedding mainly contracted for political reasons quickly blossomed into a passionate love-affair, and Elizabeth was head-over-heels with her staunch Protestant German prince. Frederick was of impeccable bloodlines, related with more or less every single royal house in Europe, and the young couple seemed destined for a happy, fruitful union, bringing squalling sons into the world at very regular intervals.

So what does this have to do with Spain? Well, at the time, Europe was a patchwork quilt of loyalties, and ever since the Reformation a century or so before, these loyalties had been realigned, redesigned and generally moved around, creating a political instability equivalent to that of a grumbling volcano.

In 1619, the Holy Roman Emperor Matthias II died. A man who tempered his own Catholic beliefs with a sizeable dose of pragmatism, Matthias had deployed a tolerant approach to the Protestants living within his empire. His successor and cousin, Ferdinand II, was much more hard-core and had every intention of eradicating Protestant influence. This did not sit well with the Bohemian nobles – not only were many of them Protestants, but Ferdinand II was a great believer in absolute monarchy, thereby over-riding the hereditary rights of the Bohemian nobles to have a substantial say in their government.

Being creative, the Bohemian nobles decided to fall back on their right to choose their own monarch (a right that had not been much exercised over the last few centuries) and invited Frederick to take the crown. Frederick was hesitant. His wife wasn’t. She wanted a crown, and besides, this was an opportunity for her beloved Freddy to show his prowess and defend his co-religionists. After some hemming and hawing, Frederick accepted the crown and was formally installed as King of Bohemia in November of 1619.

Ferdinand II
Ferdinand II was not pleased, putting it mildly. A year later, in November of 1620, the Holy Roman Emperor’s forces (including a large number of Spanish soldiers) trounced those of Frederick at the Battle of White Mountain. The first pitched battle of the Thirty Years’ War had thereby been fought, and Ferdinand would go on to aggravate most of Protestant Europe for (taa-daa) thirty more years, give or take. For Frederick and Elizabeth, the effects were far more immediate: after one year, they’d been ousted from their thrones and forced into exile.

This is where Spain comes into play. Ferdinand II was a Hapsburg. The Spanish royals were also Hapsburgs. They were also undoubtedly the most powerful royals in Europe (for a little while longer) and James I had long nurtured the hope of uniting his family with the Hapsburgs, thereby creating an impressive alliance between England and Spain that would effectively crush France between them.

Henry Frederick as a child
Originally, the intention had been to wed Henry Frederick to a Spanish Infanta. Given just how fervently Protestant Henry Frederick was, and how fiercely Catholic the Spanish royals were, that would probably have been a rather unhappy match.

In actual fact, it is rather odd that the Spanish Ambassador to England ever suggested the match – after all, he – and his royal master, Felipe III of Spain – would have known the pope would never give the dispensation required for a princess of such august Catholic blood to wed an upstart heretic. Unless said heretic converted, of course.

Henry Frederick died, the formerly so disregarded Charles was installed as Prince of Wales in 1616, and the hope of a Spanish alliance still lived. Ambassador Gondomar sweetened the deal by offering a huge dowry – large enough that James could do without that pesky Parliament, at least for a while. All the Spanish wanted in return was for England to throw out all that anti-Catholic legislation, such as Test Acts and the like, and stay well away from the turbulent situation in the Spanish Netherlands, no longer quite as Spanish, seeing as the northern part was determined to break away.

James I & IV
James considered himself a great statesman, and was probably more than flattered by the Spanish interest. Being possessed of the ability to ignore that which did not please him, he didn’t pay much regard to the heated protests from various subjects, along the lines that England had not defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588 only to hop into bed with that popish whore of a nation four decades later.

After the Bohemia debacle, James had hopes that a Spanish match could lead to the Spanish Hapsburgs putting pressure on their Austrian cousins so as to reinstate Frederick and Elizabeth. In the aftermath of the Battle of White Mountain, James saw no option but to call a Parliament, hoping thereby to raise the funds required to help Frederick and Elizabeth retake what was rightfully theirs. Parliament was all over itself in its anti-Catholic furore, but saw no reason to expend any larger amounts of English tax money on the Elector and his wife. James was miffed. Even more so when Parliament argued for war with Spain, thereby threatening the potential Spanish match.

After months of arguing with Parliament, James dissolved it. He still had his heart set on the Spanish alliance, but we were now in 1621, Spain had a new king, there was a new pope, and James was also astute enough to see that Parliament was, in effect, expressing the view of the English people when they opposed a marriage alliance with Spain. Besides, even James must have realised the religious differences between the Spanish and the English were too much of an obstacle.

A young Charles
James’s son, however, did not share his father’s defeatist view on the Spanish match. Neither did Prince Charles’ new bosom friend, George Villiers, the soon-to-be Duke of Buckingham. These two gentlemen therefore decided to take matters in their own hands, and what better way to woo the reluctant Spanish Infanta than by popping in on a surprise visit?

At the time, royal courts worked to defined protocols. Compared to the formal Spanish court, James’s court was like a laid back two-week inclusive in the Caribbean. In Spain, one DID NOT pop by on a surprise visit, even less travelling under an alias. Such minor details did not deter our amorous prince. Charles and George decided (rather unimaginatively) to travel as Thomas and John Smith and set off in February of 1623, Charles determined to win his Spanish bride and return home a married (and richer) man.

George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham
Off they went, George and Charles, failing miserably at keeping the low profile required to even slip out of England unnoticed. At some point, Villiers had to reveal himself as the Lord Admiral he was, and only then were our two Mr Smiths allowed to step aboard the ship that was to take them to France. In Paris, they donned periwigs to disguise themselves, which worked surprisingly well, and so after some days of enjoying France incognito, they set off south, riding hard for Madrid and the waiting Doña María Ana, Infanta of Spain and as Catholic as they came.

It seems no one had thought to investigate whether the purported bride had any interest in marrying the gallant English prince. María Ana was very devout, and would no more wed a heretic than she would one of the multiple flea-ridden urchins that prowled the streets of Madrid. Unless, of course, the young man in question were to convert, thereby ensuring María Ana a permanent place in heaven.

Early in March, Charles and George arrived in Madrid. As a matter of course, they went directly to the residence of the Earl of Bristol, England’s ambassador in Spain. The poor ambassador was shocked. Incensed. Aghast. Gobsmacked. All of these. Charles, however, was quite pleased with himself. From his perspective, all that was now required was for him to meet his intended, charm her petticoats off, and that was it.

Spanish Infantas did not meet men outside their immediate family just like that. María Ana was no exception to the rule, and Charles’ request that he may be allowed to pay court in person was met with a polite but firm no. Disappointment must have etched Charles’ face, because Felipe IV came up with a little plan whereby Charles would be able to see his intended without any loss of face.

In Spain, at the time there was a tradition called “hacer la rúa”, or “el paseo”. In essence, it meant people took to the outdoors, whether astride a horse, in a carriage or on foot, and made a pre-defined circuit, thereby upping the chances of running into someone you really wanted to meet. In Madrid, the route circled the Plaza Mayor, detoured round San Gerónimo, and ambled through El Prado (at the time a park, not an art museum).

María Ana
Buckingham and Charles were bundled into a carriage. María Ana was placed in another, accompanied by her brother’s queen, the pretty Isabel of Bourbon. By chance, as it were, these vehicles passed one another a couple of times. Enough for Charles to see bright blue eyes and a stray lock or two of golden hair. Not enough to exchange as much as a word.

For five months, Felipe IV kept Charles hanging. James dispatched a retinue from England, Charles met frequently with Felipe IV and his closest advisor the Count of Olivares. He was feted in grand style, was acclaimed by the Spanish people who were rather taken by the English prince – even more so given that his mere presence in Spain reasonably indicated his intention to return to the True Faith.

There were banquets and balls, there were bull runs and afternoons at the Madrid playhouses, and not once was Charles allowed to spend as much as a moment alone with María Ana, the precious Infanta always impressively chaperoned, never more than an enticing promise.

In a grand gesture, Felipe IV released hundreds of English prisoners from his galleys, but smiled blandly whenever Charles pressed his suit, reminding the eager prince that he needed reassurances, promises that the English anti-Catholic legislation would be repealed, that María Ana would be allowed to worship in accordance with her conscience.

Charles (or his father) had no authority to agree to the Spanish terms – but they did, off the record, like. And still Felipe IV procrastinated. Even after James had signed the contract, Felipe hemmed and hawed, saying he couldn’t be parted from his dear sister until the promised changes had been made.

Felipe IV
Truth was, Felipe never had the slightest intention of forcing his sister into marriage with Charles – but he negotiated with Charles as if he did, and all the while Spain was carefully jockeying for a more favourable position in the European conflicts, keeping England docile by waving the carrot of a potential marriage under Charles’ nose. As to the Elector, Felipe was not about to support a Protestant upstart against his Austrian uncle. Besides, Ferdinand II had a son, yet another Ferdinand, and María Ana would make an excellent Holy Roman Empress, wouldn’t she?

Eventually, Felipe came clean and admitted that his sister would not consider marrying Charles – unless he converted. To convert was not on the books as far as Charles was concerned. Humiliated and furious, Charles embarked on the long trip home, and his previously so warm feelings for fair María Ana, for Spain, were replaced by the conviction that nothing good could come from interacting with the accursed Hapsburgs – no matter how blue their Spanish eyes might be.

In 1625, James died, and Charles wasted little time in finding a new bride. This time, his eye fell on Henrietta Maria, French princess and just as fervent a Catholic as María Ana. And yet the English heaved a sigh of relief: at least their future queen wasn’t Spanish!

María Ana went on to marry her cousin Ferdinand III. One of her daughters would subsequently marry Felipe IV, María Ana’s brother. Not at all unusual among the Hapsburgs, to marry close relatives, but this time round all that inbreeding was to result in a number of short-lived babies and a seriously impaired heir – both mentally and physically.

A better choice? Henrietta Maria
As we all know, Charles I was not destined to live a long and happy life (very much due to his own incompetence), but he was fortunate in his wife, a loyal spouse who stood beside him through thick and thin. To Charles, it mattered little that Henrietta Maria was Catholic. Sadly, to his subjects it most certainly did, and the little queen who was so warmly welcomed in 1625 would be viewed with suspicion as the English succumbed to an ever-growing hatred of all things papist. But that, as they say, is an entirely different story.


Anna Belfrage is the successful author of eight published books, all of them part of The Graham Saga. Set in 17th century Scotland, Virginia and Maryland, this is the story of Matthew Graham and his wife, Alex Lind - two people who should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him.

Anna's books have won several awards - recently, one of her books won the HNS Indie Book of the Year Award -  and are available on Amazon, or wherever else good books are sold.

Presently, Anna is working on a new series set in 14th century England - the first installment will be published in November 2015.
For more information about Anna and her books, please visit her website. If not on her website, Anna can mostly be found on her blog.